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Education Can Counteract Health Disparities

Knowledge is power. Sometimes, it’s also good health.

white dice spelling out knowledge and know how

From making health concepts accessible via social media to changing approaches to dental school curricula, four DentaQuest 2023 Health Equity Heroes are using education to improve outcomes.

Health literacy, a key to health equity, is the degree to which individuals can find, understand and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions, according to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Limited health literacy correlates with health disparities. It increases the risk of misunderstanding information critical to achieving and maintaining health, and of getting lost in our fragmented health care system.

Health Equity Heroes Promote Learning

Joel Bervell, social media medical educator and student at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine, makes health care understandable for his broad audience on TikTok and beyond. Seeing that under-represented communities were left out of public discourse, he began creating videos that cover medical topics, expose health disparities and debunk myths, including racial biases in medical practice and training.

Building diversity and inclusivity within health care is also a passion. Joel not only creates content about applying to and navigating higher education, but also founded a mentoring program for underrepresented students interested in medical careers and co-founded a nonprofit that encourages high school students to become leaders at the global level.

In her mission to inspire change and empower young people, Christina Rosenthal, DDS, MPH, founded Determined to be a Doctor Someday (DDS). She calls DDS a catalyst to expose young children and high school students to possibilities beyond what they see in their everyday lives. DDS creates pathways to health care careers for historically underserved young people in Memphis, Tennessee. Hundreds of students have benefited from DDS programming, mentorship and resources - many achieving full college scholarships and moving on to become clinicians.

DDS originally emerged from Christina’s participation in the American Dental Association Institute for Diversity in Leadership. Now, she hopes to expand to other communities to address the always-present need for mentorship.

New Approaches in Dental Schools

Two dental school deans are influencing practitioners and patients with models of care that keep the underserved in sight.

For example, as founding dean of the Hunt School of Dental Medicine at Texas Tech in El Paso, Richard Black, DDS, MS, chose the U.S.-Mexico border location to bring much-needed oral care to underserved areas. A native El Pasoan, Dr. Black is keenly aware that the city and its surrounding communities are federally designated dental health professional shortage areas.

Hunt Dental’s curriculum promotes technical proficiency while also addressing public health needs. Students begin patient interactions in the first semester, working with faculty and community dentists at the Texas Tech Dental Oral Health Clinic. Students must demonstrate medical Spanish language proficiency to graduate. This unique dental-school requirement advances health equity, according to the ODPHP, by ensuring accessibility of health information and services.

Mark Wolff, DDS, PhD, set out to transform dental education and improve patient care in 2018, when he became dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Dental Medicine. He spent decades delivering care to special-needs patients in private practice and was surprised to learn many dentists don’t tend to the needs of the underserved.

The Penn School of Dental Medicine is changing that by having students participate in community care centers for the aging, Afghan migrants and others. Dr. Wolff is also planning a dental center for adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, plus a teledentistry program to streamline visits and triage needs, while improving oral maintenance between visits. Furthermore, he has provided a dental home to more than 7,000 individuals by establishing Penn Dental’s Personalized Care Suite/Care Center for Persons with Disabilities in 2020.

We Believe in Oral Health Equity

DentaQuest, part of Sun Life U.S., works to improve the oral health of all. Everyone deserves a healthy mind, a healthy mouth and a healthy body. We believe in making oral health equity a priority. 


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